Monday, June 09, 2008

West Virginia: The Continuing Crisis

The situation in West Virginia concerning the expulsion of MWBro. Frank Haas, PGM has moved to a new level. As reported last week in The Burning Taper (with the complete text of the complaint), Frank has filed suit against the Grand Lodge of West Virginia.

Today, the now public dispute made the Charleston papers.

From today's Daily Mail:

A former Freemason grand master is suing the West Virginia branch of the centuries-old fraternal organization and two members, alleging they defamed him after he pushed through less discriminatory and racist policies.

"These reforms and proposals were intended to rid Masonry in West Virginia of Orwellian, repressive, regressive and unconstitutional practices,'' Frank Joseph Haas alleges in his lawsuit, filed May 30 in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Named as defendants are the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of West Virginia Inc., Masons Charles F. Coleman II and Charlie L. Montgomery, and several John Does.

Haas says Coleman, who succeeded him as grand master, voided policy changes adopted in 2006, saying the vote to approve them was flawed.

Haas also accuses Montgomery of spearheading his expulsion from the organization in November.

Montgomery did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment, and no telephone listing could be found for Coleman.

The Masons is an international secret society that promotes brotherliness, charity and mutual aid.

Haas, an administrative law judge from Brooke County, alleges the defendants insinuated he was a liar, and by doing so harmed his standing in the community and hurt his reputation.

Haas, a Mason since 1986 who became grand master in October 2005, also alleges he was not given an opportunity to defend himself against the charges.

As a result of his expulsion, Haas cannot retire to the West Virginia Masonic Home nor have a Masonic funeral with other Masons serving as pallbearers, the lawsuit alleges.

Haas is seeking reinstatement as a Mason and to have any record of his expulsion expunged. His lawsuit also seeks unspecified damages.


The Charleston Gazette also covered the story, reading in part:

Haas' lawsuit offers a glimpse into the world of the Masons, a centuries-old organization that traces its roots back to the United Kingdom. While the society is not exactly secretive, it has often been veiled in mystery, as some of its customs and practices are not revealed to non-members.

Haas joined the Masonic Lodge in Wellsburg in 1986, four years after he earned his law degree from West Virginia University. After years of dedicated service, Haas became the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in October 2005, the suit maintains.

As Grand Master, Haas tried to make the organization's policies less discriminatory and racist and more in line with the U.S. Constitution and the state's public policy, the suit contends.

"Haas' goal was to make Masonry more tolerant, friendly, decent and accepting of everyone regardless of nationality, race, religion or disability," the suit states

In October 2006, members of the Grand Lodge voted to adopt the progressive reforms put forward by Haas, the lawsuit alleges.

"These reforms and proposals were intended to rid Masonry in West Virginia of [its] Orwellian, repressive, regressive and unconstitutional practices," the lawsuit states.

In response, Coleman, who succeeded Haas as Grand Master, "almost immediately unilaterally entered various edicts rendering the progressive proposals voted on and adopted by a majority of Defendant Grand Lodge null and void," the suit claims.

Coleman justified his actions by claiming that the vote was invalid because of procedural errors, the suit alleges. But no Masons were punished for the alleged errors, and no further votes on the reforms have been allowed since, according to Haas.

Over the next year, Haas continued to speak out about the Grand Lodge's ethical, moral and legal obligations to reform its policies, the lawsuit maintains. . .

While it is not clear whether the court has the right to tell a private organization how to conduct its business, Haas maintains that the harm done to him outweighs the Grand Lodge's "interest in autonomy and freedom from judicial oversight."



PGM Haas is represented by Charleston attorney Robert Allen, who is described in the paper as a longtime Mason. With "secret letters" from the GM to WMs across the state, and expulsions happening across WVa over members' defense of Haas, one has to seriously wonder if Brother Allen's membership is now in danger for acting in his professional capacity.

A good friend of mine has described West Virginia as becoming the "North Korea of US Freemasonry," not just over this situation, but for some of the practices and rules that WBRro. Haas attempted to change almost two years ago. It is a sad situation all the way around, and unfortunately, much of it could have been avoided by quiet, reasoned counsel instead of public hangings and escalation of hostilities. In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce famously defined a lawsuit as "a machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage." It is with no happiness that I fear that Freemasonry in West Virginia may be destined for its own seasoned sausage casing, unless this sad situation can be brought to a peaceful end by reasonable men.

Meanwhile, the tumult continues at West Virginia Masonic Crusade.

In Maxwell Anderson's screenplay for Ann of the Thousand Days, Sir Thomas More tells the king's lawyer Thomas Cromwell, "You may tell the King what he may do, and what he ought to do; but you must never tell the King what he can do. If he knew his true strength, it would be hard for any man to stop him."

There's a lesson there.

13 comments:

Scout32 said...

While I hope this goes well for Bro. Haas, I see this possibly taking an unexpected turn in the future.
What happens when a female co-mason applies to our Fraternity and is rejected. She may know our ritual and might be more proficient that many current brothers.

The Millennial Freemason said...

Can someone tell me exactly what happened to start this whole problem? We all seem to talk about what is going on now with Jurisprudence, etc. but what caused such a monumental fissure between the two parties?

The Palmetto Bug said...

No good can come from this...none.

MIA said...

PGM Haas made proposals during his term as GM, the proposals were voted on during Grand Lodge & PASSED by the majority vote. Coleman, Montgomery and a few others were against the reforms that GM Haas proposed. Coleman was next in line. When he became GM, within days he issued edicts against all the reforms calling them null & void without consideration for what the GL members had voted for themselves.

Next GM was Montgomery, who followed in Coleman's footsteps, he too had voted against the reforms (not a known fact, a guess based on his current actions). Anyone that spoke out against what Coleman did was soon on the 'expel' list that Montgomery was putting together. Montgomery sent out 'secret coded' letters with warnings about reading them, or letting anyone see them. None of them on official letterhead. He then proceeded to expel not just PGM Haas in a humiliating way without trial but also another member of the same lodge, and one of the youngest Master of Lodge in a long time.

Hopefully this gives you an idea where this problem started. My impression of Grand Lodge of any Masonic Fraternity is that it's just that - a fraternity - brotherhood where another person's opinions and wants matter. Apparently not so for Coleman & Montgomery. The suit explains the rest of the issues.

Tom Accuosti said...

Scout, this has nothing to do with ritual; this is an internal dispute that has gotten out of hand.

I'm not sure what Haas hopes to gain by this, although my guess is that he is hoping to both draw some attention to the issues and to embarrass the current GL officers into re-examining their priorities.

Chris Hodapp said...

A couple of points to clarify, based on documents located in the Albums section of the Masonic Crusade website.

PGM Coleman declared that the vote for the so-called Charleston Reforms was taken improperly, and nullified all rules passed by that vote. I do not know West Virginia masonic law, so I can't say one way or the other. I WILL point out that Frank read an agenda of his recommended rule changes, and it was proposed and seconded from the floor that the entire agenda be adopted, instead of voting on individual changes one at a time. This was done, and the agenda was adopted. The vote was taken using a physical tally of collected ballot cards, and again, as I have had it explained, it passed by a very slim margin. But it did pass.

Questions about the legality of the voting method were brought up by PGM Coleman, Haas' successor, just a month after taking office in October 2006, and he eradicated the rule changes by edict. GMs control the agenda of the GL meeting, and PGM Coleman did not introduce legislation in October 2007 to attempt to reintroduce any of the rule changes that had been passed the previous year. There is, apparently, no mechanism for anyone but the GM to introduce legislation (again, I may be mistaken here, but that's my understanding).

GM Charles Montgomery came into office in October 2007. He expelled Haas in December without trial. When his lodge (Wellsburg Lodge No. 2) asked to try Haas according WVa law, they were denied and placed "on probation," a condition that has no provision in their law. When a district grand lecturer attempted to ask the GM to reconsider his actions, he was expelled in the parking lot.

More recent developments have included an apparently coded letter, sent not on GL stationary, but as a private letter from the GM to all WMs warning them not to let visitors from outside jurisdictions into meetings if there was any chance they might talk about the situation with Haas. The WMs were to deny the existence of said letter and not read it in lodge, or let anyone else see it. The internet being what it is, allegedly one Master leaked his copy, and based on wording in his version, the GM determined who it was and expelled him as well.

Rev. T. Monkey said...

"Haas' goal was to make Masonry more tolerant, friendly, decent and accepting of everyone regardless of nationality, race, religion or disability," the suit states.

It is heart-breaking that these changes would even need to be made to Freemasonry, given all the talk about its being a moral system cloaked in allegory. I guess for me tolerance, frienship, and decency all fall under the rubric of "brotherhood"; too bad Masons from certain demographics don't feel the same.

Chris Hodapp said...

My error.
Not the Charleston Reforms, but the Wheeling Reforms.

The text of PGM Frank Haas' agenda is at:
http://masonic-crusade.com/gallery/1/agenda.pdf

It includes the wording of WVa masonic laws and the changes he proposed. Bear in mind it was this agenda document that was voted on as a whole and passed by a slim majority. Also bear in mind that some of the controversy now resides in whether WVa Masonic law could be changed properly by voting en masse on such a document. I questioned that myself. But it is only partially about this document.

Instead of making comments based on suppositions and summaries from blogsites, I strongly urge brethren to take the trouble and time to read ALL of the documents at:

http://masonic-crusade.com/index.php?op=ViewAlbum&albumId=1&blogId=1

Included are letters from both PGM Coleman and current GM Montgomery, plus texts of the vote reversals and expulsions.

Masonic said...

As always Brother Chris we appreciate your fair and balanced reporting on what is going on here. It is a pressure cooker here with expulsions and threats of expulsions. MW Brother Frank is a good man hopes to right wrongs with his lawsuit. If there had been any other method to be heard he would have pursued it. GL is not listening to the voice of the brethren. We are all aware of the can of worms that may be opened.

Pray for us brethren.

A Mason

sec昴宿六 2 said...

It's not a matter of if but of when and the when is coming little by little, Man by Man, day by day.

Truth is good and MWB Haas has chosen to tell his side in a REAL COURT since he was not given a the chance of a lame Masonic court.

The days of Masonic trails etc. are coming to and end as this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Millennial Freemason said...

That is a scary comment, "The days of Masonic trails[sic] etc. are coming to and end as this is just the tip of the iceberg."
Masonic trials do have good uses such as when a brother has done something criminal. Freemasonry is an organization "making good men better" and to maintain the goodness of the organization, we need Masonic trials. I agree that using the trial in a Draconian fashion is antithetical to our ideas of equality and due process and should be stopped, including through legal means but there still remains legitimate purposes for using Masonic trials.

wilderness said...

"Stranger and Stranger"...it is both a sad reflection on Masonry in West Virginia and many Grand Lodges and GM's to actually allow all MM to stand on the level with them.

Gene said...

I haven't heard any thing about this case....Nor would I like to choose sides , but it seems to me that you have forgotten what AF&AM really stands for, Ancient FREE & Accepted Masons. Which means that the ancestors of members of that lodge were FREE men in ancient times or of white decent.....I'm not trying to sound racist because God knows I've never been nor will I ever be....But colored men were not free in that time of our history .......Sad but true.Thats why most colored lodges are F&AM FREE and Accepted Masons....As far as the women go.....Thats what I thought The Order of The Eastern Star was for.....I do not care for the lifestyle of a gay or lesbian person but thats thier choice.Just because a lesbian thinks she should be a man doesn't mean that she should be treated as one.....She is still female and even if she's not a lesbian the only reason I think a female wants to join a lodge is to keep an eye on her husband or to have something to talk about across the fence with her neighbors.And come to think about it ,women weren't really FREE to speak of in that time either. They didn't have the right to vote and they were there to serve thier husbands,that was a womans job then. I know your saying to yourself "this guys a nut" but think about it...If you are a true Mason then you would want to keep the true core values of the lodge .....Don't let it be attacked and destroyed like so many other things have been in the past just because they were trying to "Bring everything into the 21 Century" I have been a Mason for a little over 10 years....But to see what the Lodge has become in some places sickens me .